Political Notes: LGBTQ CA Assemblymembers given new leadership posts

  • by Matthew S. Bajko, Assistant Editor
  • Monday December 11, 2023
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Assemblymembers Chris Ward, left, Corey A. Jackson, Ph.D., and Alex Lee were given new leadership posts in state Assembly, which reconvenes January 3. Photos: Courtesy the lawmakers
Assemblymembers Chris Ward, left, Corey A. Jackson, Ph.D., and Alex Lee were given new leadership posts in state Assembly, which reconvenes January 3. Photos: Courtesy the lawmakers

Several LGBTQ members of the California Assembly will be new committee chairs when they reconvene next month, though two of the chamber's current six out members will not be serving in the top leadership ranks. The lawmakers will be returning to the state Legislature as Sacramento grapples with a deepening budget crisis.

According to the Legislative Analyst's Office's 2024-25 Fiscal Outlook issued December 7, the state is facing a $68 billion deficit in the upcoming budget process. It is also projecting fiscal year 2022-23 revenue will be $26 billion below budget act estimates.

The dreary news for the state's coffers has lawmakers already worried about what will be on the chopping block, with LGBTQ legislative members vowing to protect programs focused on the LGBTQ community. Outgoing lesbian Senate President pro Tempore Toni G. Atkins (D-San Diego), set to give up her gavel February 5, said the state "can withstand" the downturn in its revenues but must be "cautious and mindful" in how it addresses it.

"Our record reserves and other budgeting tools will help us weather this shortfall, while at the same time protecting middle-class taxpayers and the programs and resources that help Californians and families," stated Atkins, who is termed out next year and reportedly eying a gubernatorial run in 2026.

Helping craft the legislative response to the budget woes, in addition to shepherding new legislation through the committee process next year, will be several out assemblymembers who have been given committee chairmanships by new Assembly Speaker Robert Rivas (D-Salinas). Gay Assemblymember Chris Ward (D-San Diego) is now chair of the Assembly Housing and Community Development Committee.

In an email to his constituents Ward named increasing the production of middle-class housing; strengthening accountability for state-funded homelessness programs; and assistance for renters struggling to afford housing as among the top concerns he will be focused on in 2024.

"Making housing more affordable and providing support for housing and homelessness solutions is one of our most important issues facing Californians today and into the future," stated Ward. "While the problems have been the result of decades of neglect, I am ready to help lead some honest and bold initiatives to turn these trends around."

Ward is taking over the gavel of the important committee from Assemblymember Buffy Wicks (D-Oakland), who will no longer serve on it, as she is the new chair of the powerful Assembly Appropriations Committee. In a statement, Rivas expressed confidence in seeing Ward build on what Wicks accomplished over her time as chair, strengthening state laws aimed at overcoming local opposition to new housing.

"Assemblymember Ward has demonstrated a strong commitment in the Assembly on issues related to housing affordability, increasing supply and improving access and equity," stated Rivas. "I'm confident Chris will build on what Assemblymember Wicks accomplished, and deliver much-needed housing solutions that work for all Californians."

Replacing gay Assemblymember Corey A. Jackson, Ph.D., (D-Perris) as chair of the Assembly Human Services Committee will be bisexual Assemblymember Alex Lee (D-San Jose.) Lee had chaired the Assembly Environmental Safety and Toxic Materials Committee, on which he will no longer serve.

Jackson, who was also removed as a member of the committee, will now serve on the Joint Legislative Budget Committee. He will chair the Assembly's newly created Budget Subcommittee No. 2 on Human Resources, which has been given oversight of such state programs as CalWORKs, CalFresh, and In-home Supportive Services.

"It is an honor and dream come true as a social worker to be responsible for building and transforming our social safety net programs," stated Jackson. "We will attack poverty head-on and ensure that our systems are designed to help people thrive, not just survive. I want all of the populations that are served by these programs and systems to know that I see you and will fight for your dignity and humanity."

Rivas had cited Jackson's social work career as for why he felt he was best suited to lead the new oversight body.

"These resources are vital lifelines for many families. By separating out human services and public health committee work, the Legislature can do a better job of focusing and also give the committee more time to offer feedback," stated Rivas.

Chairing another newly created committee, the Assembly's Select Committee on Retail Theft, is gay Assemblymember Rick Chavez Zbur (D-Hollywood/Santa Monica). Due to the rise in such thefts of late, the state this year distributed over $267 million to law enforcement agencies covering 55 cities and counties in order to increase arrests and prosecutions for organized retail crime.

"We are seeing increasing store closures across the state attributed to shoplifting, as well as commercial burglary and commercial robbery," stated Zbur in October when he was named the committee chair. "Widespread retail theft is not only bad for business and a source of shopper inconvenience — it's an issue of safety, and the perception of safety, for workers, business owners, and the public."

The California State Assembly will reconvene on Wednesday, January 3. Left off the chairmanship list were out Assemblymembers Sabrina Cervantes (D-Riverside), a lesbian, and Evan Low (D-Cupertino) who is gay and was the focus of news reports over the last year that he wanted to become Assembly speaker. Cervantes is running for a state Senate seat next year, while Low last week jumped into the crowded race for an open House seat in San Jose. (The national LGBTQ+ Victory Fund endorsed his congressional bid December 7.)

Assembly's top leaders

As for Rivas' top leaders in the Assembly, he elevated Assemblymember Matt Haney (D-San Francisco) to majority whip; Haney had been serving as the assistant majority whip. Haney replaces Assemblymember Lori D. Wilson (D-Suisun City), who will now chair the Assembly Transportation Committee, another powerful oversight body particularly for the public transit rich Bay Area.

A lone out legislator holds one of the 10 Democratic leadership posts in the Assembly. Zbur is remaining as the Democratic Caucus Chair for the chamber.

There are no longer any Black members holding any of the powerful positions. After Rivas faced criticism for not naming any African Americans to his leadership team last month, both Cervantes and Wilson spoke out in his defense.

"I thank Speaker Rivas for his commitment to ensuring Black Californians have a strong voice in the Legislature by appointing Black legislators to key leadership positions in the Assembly," stated Wilson, the first legislator in the state with a transgender child who chairs the California Legislative Black Caucus. "The appointments include influential committees such as Health, Transportation, Natural Resources, Public Safety, and the Budget Subcommittees on both Health and Human Services. These leaders hail from diverse parts of California and will not only benefit Black Californians, but all residents of our state. Let's get to work!"

As chair of the California Latino Legislative Caucus Cervantes stated she looks forward to collaborating with Rivas' leadership team in the coming legislative session to ensure the needs of the "vast and diverse Latino communities" throughout the Golden State are addressed.

"The California State Assembly's diversity is its greatest strength, and Speaker Rivas' commitment to uplift Latino voices and lived experiences is a significant step toward maximizing the Legislature's ability to deliver for everyone in our Golden State," she stated.

Ward, vice chair of the California Legislative LGBTQ Caucus, added that he will be working with the affinity group for out legislators "next year to protect equality and guarantee that California remains a safe place for those seeking care or refuge from harm with Speaker Rivas as a strong ally."

Keep abreast of the latest LGBTQ political news by following the Political Notebook on Threads @ https://www.threads.net/@matthewbajko.

Got a tip on LGBTQ politics? Call Matthew S. Bajko at (415) 829-8836 or e-mail [email protected]

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